Marty Alani
Year: 2017
Faculty Advisor: Georg Jander

“Physiological Mechanism of Fusarium graminearum-induced Aphid Vulnerability on Maize Seedlings”

Project Summary

Plants are subject to attack by many types of pests. While there has been significant research on plant interactions with these pests separately, less is known about how plants respond to multiple pests in separate parts of the plant. In my project, we investigated the interaction of corn leaf aphids (R. maidis), a leaf phloem feeder, and F. graminearum, a fungus that infects corn roots.  A previous experiment has shown a significant increase in corn leaf aphid reproduction on B73 corn seedlings infected with F. graminearum. This could be explained by a decrease in benzoxazinoids, a major plant defense chemical, in the leaves after F. graminearum root infection.  To test if the F. graminearum-induced R. maidis growth is dependent on the induced benzoxazinoid reduction, we used two benzoxazinoid deficient mutants, bx1 and bx2, as well as their shared wild type progenitor T43, to compare aphid reproduction on fungus- and mock-inoculated plants.  We found that the increase in aphid fecundity present in fungal infected plants is not conserved in the T43 genetic background, because we found no significant difference in aphid reproduction on fungal-infected and mock plants.  Understanding this type of interaction could inform farmers about more resistant corn varieties, or could just provide further elucidation into the way that plants defend themselves against pests.  

My Experience:

Overall, I’ve had a very educational and constructive experience in my lab.  My mentor, and everyone else in my lab, are very supportive of me and my work.  If I ever am unclear on anything, whether it is some sort of extraction protocol or just how to use a machine, I can count on any person to help me out, and sometimes, people count on me to help them out in the same way.  I’ve been able to learn many laboratory techniques such as DNA extraction, PCR, and gel electrophoresis, all of which I wouldn’t have the chance to do outside of a lab environment. When my mentor shows me a new technique, he also explains what the technique does, and why the results are important to my experiment.  I feel like I really understand what I’m doing in the lab and why it matters, which is the most important part of this internship for me.